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NEW YORK — James Perse, who gave the lowly T-shirt fashion status with his line of body-skimming tops, has a lot more up his cotton jersey sleeve.
Perse is expanding his product line to include beachwear, outerwear and even evening wear, all interpreted with his signature soft hand and easygoing attitude. He’s also opening two stores in the spring: a 1,000-square-foot boutique at 411 Bleecker Street, and an 800-square-foot shop at the Country Mart in Malibu.
While Perse’s sexy T’s have propelled his company’s growth and earned Perse the title of T-shirt King, the collection has evolved to include coats, dresses, skirts, pants and sweaters. There’s even a new suiting collection — military-inspired shirt jackets — but they’ll be made of soft, washed garment-died fabrics.
The new product categories will be rolled out in the fall to about 200 department and specialty store doors worldwide. Meanwhile, a full line of accessories, including handbags and shoes is in the works.
In Malibu, Perse is bringing his sensibility to the surf lifestyle. “I ultimately want to create a special idea and special product line,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of exclusive pieces carried only in that store.”
The designer studied Manhattan neighborhoods before settling on Bleecker Street in the West Village. Sales at the store are expected to be $2,000 per square foot. Perse acknowledged that the estimate is high, but said it’s in line with volume at his 18-month-old Melrose Avenue flagship.
Since being discovered by big name designers such as Marc Jacobs, who has three stores, and Ralph Lauren, who has two, rents on Bleecker Street have risen from the $80 to $120 per square foot range to $200 per square foot, according to real estate brokers. Lauren is said to be seeking more space. Stetson is opening a store selling fashion hats, silver jewelry and leather wear at 387 Bleecker in the former Four Paws Club, and Abercrombie & Fitch is reportedly scouting for space for Ruehl, its new retail concept.
“Bleecker Street has a boutique mentality,” Perse said. “I want my store to be in a neighborhood environment. The West Village couldn’t be more perfect. My customer lives there and there’s an incredible amount of traffic.”
“In general downtown has shied away from chain stores,” said Christopher Owles, of Sinvin Realty Corp., who represented Perse. “This is right in the heart of the West Village counterculture. It’s one thing to see stores start to go upscale, but chains are a harder thing for the neighborhood to swallow. It’s really an area where you have individual real estate owners that care.”